athletes · body image · fashion

Play hard, look cute!

That was the actual piece of advertising copy on a sports bra I almost tried on. Hot pink and very pretty. I wasn’t put off by the slogan, the hot pink,  or by the pretty. I passed on it because it was padded and I’m no fan of padded sports bras. But I am curious about the role looking good while working out plays in the lives of girls and women.

Think about my yoga pants post. A number of people responded to my criticisms of Lululemon’s 100 dollar yoga pants by noting how good they looked wearing them and how looking good inspired them to work harder. To be fair, they also noted that they were extremely durable and worked well.  As if “they make your ass look great!” is a knock down argument. (Okay, maybe it is.)

Or have a boo at this article on Huffington Post, Cute Workout Clothes Are The Key To Getting You Off The Couch And To The Gym, which is basically just a before and after slide show of gym-goers and other exercisers with new and improved workout attire. “Ditch that ratty tshirt and run in this instead!” You get the idea.

“Exercise can be a chore. Like laundry, it’s another thing on the to-do list that we’d rather not do, but we kinda have to. In an effort to make working out a little less painful (on the eyes, at least), we searched for the cutest workout clothes out there.”

So looking good clearly matters to all sorts of different people, with different definitions of good.

I’m not immune to this. I have hot  pink running shoes, and I could have bought black. I smile when I put the pink shoes on and I actually like the way I look in work out gear, especially my cycling clothes. I have a serious soft spot for fun cycling clothes. I don’t own the bike jerseys pictured here but I’ve admired them from afar. It’s easy for me to workout without make up since that’s my usual state of affairs, except for lipstick which comes with me everywhere, even on very long bike rides.

In the comments on an earlier post, a reader asked why can’t girls and women have fun with our femininity?

And I agree. Playing with gender can be a lot of fun. Playing with one’s appearance can be a lot of fun. But for it to be fun, for me, it has to be optional.

Have fun with your appearance, sure. But it’s a bit of a double edged sword because looking good while working out raises the bar. Maybe this time it’s for fun but next time you’ll think you can’t go to the gym if your favourite outfit is in the wash or if you’re having a bad hair day.

What’s fun today too quickly becomes tomorrow’s necessary condition. If it’s obligatory, in my books, it’s rarely fun.

I started colouring my hair in the 80s, the era of cotton candy punk. I had pink, blue, purple streaks in my bleached blonde hair. And it was a blast. Until it became a chore and then I stopped.

I’d also like some spaces, some times and places, in my life, where I don’t have to worry about what I look like. A mirror free zone. Camping has long been that for me in an extended way but I like little mini-bursts of that throughout my week. And physical activity has been one of those places of refuge.

I just worry there is so much pressure on women to look good at all times that it quickly moves from fun to obligation.  A quick google search turns up, Look Hot While Working Out! (cosmo girl), The Secrets to Looking This Good While Working Out Cosmopolitan, NY Mag’s Stylish Gym Clothes to Get You Racing to Workout, a wikihow called How to Be Sexy While Playing Sports and even WebMD isn’t immune with Look Good While You Get Fit.

So if it’s fun and motivational, great. But if turns into one more place where you feel there’s a bar you need to meet before getting out the door is acceptable, then maybe it’s time to pay attention to athletic values rather than aesthetic ones.

So dress cute if that’s your thing. Me, I’m doing my bit to keep the bar low. I’ll be be bringing standards down in my grey tank and whatever capris or shorts were on the top of the clean pile. I don’t wear make up or jewelry to the gym.You can thank me later!

It’s a big tent and there’s room for all of us.

And hey, here’s Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby. Doesn’t look like she’s wearing make up or stylish athletic fashion either!

10 thoughts on “Play hard, look cute!

  1. I’m fairly liberal in my feminist views, so of course I don’t think we can or should prohibit “cuteness” in workout clothing. But I do feel pretty strongly that it does a disservice to *all* women when some women feel the need to make themselves cute when they work out. I’m with those who believe there should be some venues where we can just be excused from having to look a certain way. It may just be that my take on “cute” is rather negative — I think it’s hard to take women really seriously when they go for cute. In Jane Eliot’s great film Blue-Eyed, where she does one of those anti-racism workshops where she divides people into blue-eyed and brown-eyed groups and treats the blue-eyed people really badly, there’s one “cute” blue-eyed. And Jane says to her something along the lines of: “forget cute. You’ll be cute until you’re about 45 and then you won’t be cute anymore. Get educated, get professional. Forget cute.” I know there are lots of women who say they like to be cute “for themselves.” If cute is what we strive for, it’s demeaning to ourselves and others. Even in terms of physical attractiveness, cute doesn’t gain us much respect. Given that we have choices, I’m going to come down more strongly than Samantha on the choice to be cute. It’s not a particularly strong, admirable goal and it does a disservice to women who would like to be taken seriously on other measures.

    1. I’d never criticize another woman’s choices as demeaning. I did consider including a paragraph on the effects of our actions on others. When you raise the bar for attention to appearance it affects all of us. But ultimately I think that’s a dangerous road to go down. A complicated issue. Here’s a blog post I read recently on the make up debate. I like what she has to say,

  2. Despite my views on this, I also would never go up to another woman and say “your choices are demeaning.” And I agree with the author of the blogpost you linked to about make-up and BDSM and lots of things. And of course, as I said, we do have the choice to be cute. And I wouldn’t want to violate the underpants rule and say no one should make it. But I really do think that, in the scheme of things, there are far more empowering choices out there, and, also in the scheme of things, the choice to be cute over one of those other more empowering ways to be doesn’t help the feminist cause. When I was an MA student i used to giggle a lot. Two other female students, one in the PhD program, pointed it out to me and said that I might want to look at the way I “presented” to other philosophers when I did that. They were being helpful, and I took their caution seriously. I feel the same about cute as I do about giggling. Kittens and teddy bears and little kids are cute.

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